So after shooting 13 NASCAR races around the country it finally came down to my 14th and final race of the season in sunny Miami for the championship race. With Jimmie Johnson having a gigantic points lead I would spend most of my weekend trying to get as many different angles of him as possible since the championship would be his third straight, tying him with NASCAR legend Cale Yarborough as the only driver to three peat, and would be good for sales. Continue reading to see what I came up with.  

So after co-worker Jerry Lai and I grabbed some Dennys and picked up third shooter Guy Rhodes from the airport off we went to the track to pick up credentials and get to work.

First on tap was qualifying where access is horrible since the photographers have to stand about 15 feet away behind a white line to attempt to shoot clean shots of the drivers while dealing with TV reporters, cameraman, their cable guy, satellite holders, radio reporters and their assistants, crew members, pit equipment, PR reps and officials. Sounds fun eh?

Initially everyone was crossing the white line and getting up close so I was able to get a nice headshot of Johnson before security booted us back behind the line.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f8, 1/4000th

I probably should have shot a few pics to show exactly what I am talking about but I went back through my take and found a few examples of what I am talking about and what I did to attempt to overcome the issue.

So in the below photo you can kind of see the amount of crew members on pit road who get in the way when I am trying to shoot driver shots and car shots.

I really wanted to get a solid feature photo of Johnson on his qualifying run so I figured out a way to use all the clutter of crew members and cars on pit road to my advantage so I stood on top of the pit wall and dropped down the shutter speed to create some blur and was pretty happy with the result.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 100iso, f13, 1/80th

The moral of the story is that a lot of the time when shooting things aren’t gonna be optimal for good shooting so you have to come up with ways to make the crappy situation manageable. (more on that topic later)

As qualifying was close to wrapping up the light was pretty good and made for cool backlit photos of the cars going down the frontstretch such as the below photo of A.J. Allmendinger.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/8000th

With qualifying complete it was time to head back to the media room to move some pics, along the way I saw this crew member with a sweet mustache and fired off a quick shot.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

Next on tap was the Craftsman Truck Series race where there was a close battle for the points championship. Truck races aren’t near as important as Cup races as far as photo demand so I wouldn’t need to worry about going nuts with coverage.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

I spent most the race shooting from the outside of turn two waiting for some action. Evidently the racers didn’t get the memo as it was a completely boring race where all I could shoot was boring turn shots such as the below shot of Scott Speed leading a pack of traffic.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/800th

As the race got close to the end I had to make the 3/4 mile walk from the exit of turn two to the finish line in preparation for the championship ceremony.

While walking I saw something out of the corner of my eye along the catch fence. It was a little gecko scurrying along the fence. I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate the gecko into a picture of the trucks racing but also had to be careful not to get too close and scare it off. I started off shooting with an 80-200mm but the depth of field made the trucks in the background unrecognizable.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 6400iso, f8, 1/800th

Unhappy with the result and really wanting to come up with something interesting (since I have never seen a lizard watching NASCAR) I threw a wide angle lens on and slowly tried getting close.

Of course as I got close he started running up the catch fence to get away from me. I wish someone had been there videotaping this as I ran along the fence with the camera over my head hail mary style keeping up with the gecko and blindly firing off photos until he got too high to shoot. Of the 50 or so pictures I shot only one came out with him in focus and the trucks in the background. Its not amazing but I think its pretty unique.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 6400iso, f7.1, 1/1000th

As I got back to walking I heard a loud popping sound as the truck of Mike Skinner came by and blew a tire, I quickly grabbed a camera and stuck it up against the fence to shoot as he drove away in a shower of sparks.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th

Once I got positioned at the finish line I slowed the shutter speed way down and shot through the fence as trucks raced by. The first pic is to show how the shot looked without a slow shutter speed to illustrate what I was up against.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th

And here is the result of the same shot with a super slow shutter speed and fast pan of racer Todd Bodine.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/15th

I got lucky with who I shot as he went on to win the race.

Being right at the finish line worked well for after the race when a NASCAR official handed Bodine the checkered flag and I crouched beneath him to shoot the shot.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 2000iso, f2.8, 1/500th

The real winner though was Johnny Benson who won the 2008 championship.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/640th

With that Day One was complete.

Day Two would begin with two Cup Series practices. As with day one I would be spending a lot of time shooting multiple angles of Jimmie Johnson.

As with the previous race in Phoenix where I incorporated cactus into some shots this time I would look for palm trees to have in shots to give them a localized Miami mood to them. The puffy white clouds were a bonus.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 250iso, f8, 1/800th

Even though Johnson was as close to a clinch for the championship as you could possibly be I still had to get some coverage of Carl Edwards who had a super small chance to still win the title.

For the below photo I laid completely on the ground to give a different perspective as well as get some heatwaves in the shot as well as a good angle with some palm trees in the background.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 500iso, f8, 1/800th

I busted out an off camera sync cord and got close up on Dale Earnhardt Jr as he climbed out of his car and took his helmet off. He looks like he wants to kill me.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f10, 1/250th with an SB800 flash off camera

The clouds (as seen earlier) were very nice so I decided to work them some more into some shots. I left the garage and went to the exit of turn four and did some car shots with the clouds such as the below image of Carl Edwards leading teammate Jamie McMurray.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 250iso, f8, 1/2000th

After a few minutes of shooting in the turn I went back in the garage area and underexposed by about 3 stops as I shot crew members on the tops of their car haulers watching practice.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 100iso, f7.1, 1/3200th

I went back to work looking for more feature type images of Jimmie Johnson. For the below photo I got behind a NASCAR official directing traffic and incorporated him into my shot as Johnson drove out towards the track.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 400iso, f4, 1/8000th

At the end of practice Kurt Busch drove into the garage with the side of his car scraped up from an encounter with the wall, the exhaust flames trickling out along with smoke was a nice bonus.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2500th

After quickly transmitting some images it was time for the Nationwide race so I took the long hike to turn two in hopes of a more exciting race than the previous nights truck race.

The race began right before sunset so the light was decent. I looked behind the track and the sun looked really nice as it rim lit the motorhome parking lot.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 200iso, f5, 1/2500th

Clint Bowyer was battling with Carl Edwards for the title so I would be looking out for any interesting images I could come up with.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2000iso, f5.6, 1/800th

As with the truck race the Nationwide race was pretty boring. So I was looking for anything that would make for a good photo such as a wide shot with the dusk sky as Bobby Hamilton Jr led a pack of cars by me.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f5.6, 1/500th

Late in the race Scott Lagasse Jr hit the wall and had a small fire. Totally boring photo but it was pretty much the only crash photo I got all weekend.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

I did the long walk once again back to the finish line and did my slow shutter speed shot through the fence of Carl Edwards who would eventually win the race.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 100iso, f5.6, 1/15th

After winning the race Edwards drove by the starting line with fireworks going off in the background. They were too far away for the photo to really make for a good photo but here is how it looked.

Nikon D3, 10.5-17mm, 4000iso, f4.2, 1/800th

Even though Edwards won the race he lost the championship to Clint Bowyer who finished high enough that Edwards couldn’t overcome his points lead.

As all of us photographers were getting set up in our positions for the championship ceremony Bowyer began doing a burnout several hundred yards away on the straight away. I had a clear shot for a second as he celebrated.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

The clear shot only lasted a second as security and several other photographers got in my way.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

Once in victory lane we did the standard trophy presentation.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1250iso, f6.3, 1/160th

Followed by a thorough champagne bath for the new champ.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/800th

And with that Day Two was complete. One more day in the 2008 NASCAR season!

For the Cup race I planned to put as much effort into the race as I could do get tons of Jimmie Johnson shots.

I got off to a good start by getting him greeting 7 time champion Richard Petty prior to the race. Its a pretty standard photo but several years from now if Johnson gets close to Pettys 7 championships it will certainly get some usage.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/1000th

For the start of the race I shot from turn one where in previous years I have found a nice light pocket that I remembered to use this year. Below is a wide view showing what the light pocket looked like.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/2000th

Now here is a tighter view that is a much cleaner shot.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 400iso, f5.6, 1/1600th

Then I threw on a 400mm and went in even tighter.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 500iso, f5.6, 1/2500th

While shooting the photo I noticed you could see Edwards face in the car which looked really cool.

Here is the above picture cropped in tight on his face for a better view.

After spending a few minutes in that spot shooting every driver I headed into turn two where it was fully shadowed and underexposed by 3 stops in the below photo of Jimmie Johnson.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1000iso, f5.6, 1/4000th

As the sun got lower and lower I headed midway down the backstretch to do some silhouette shots.

There is a photo hole in the fence to shoot through. The problem is the wall is pretty high there so its very hard to get clean images over the wall. Below is how it looks standing there against the wall.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1000iso, f4, 1/8000th

Not happy with the wall in the foreground I went with a different approach and stood on my tippie toes and held the camera above my head out of the hole above the cars. Below is a photo showing my technique.

Photo by David Griffin

With the wide angle I loved the way the shadow looked coming off the car of Carl Edwards as he raced by.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 1000iso, f4, 1/8000th

I also did some tighter shots with the 80-200mm (which was much harder to aim without looking through the viewfinder)

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 800iso, f9, 1/2500th

As the sun dipped behind the track the light was looking very nice as dusk set in. (note that you can see the inside of the wall proving that my camera is over the track as cars race less than 2 feet from me at 180mph)

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 2500iso, f4.5, 1/3200th

By aiming the camera the other way as the cars went away from me it provided a much different looking shot accentuated by the palm trees. I really like the below shot of Brian Vickers as he speeds by.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 2500iso, f3.5, 1/3200th

The next two images of Johnson show how different the light can be just 15 minutes apart.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 2500iso, f3.5, 1/3200th

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 1000iso, f4.5, 1/200th

With the sun set there was a few minutes of really nice orange sky.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 2500iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

A few minutes later the sky had a nice dark red color to it.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

After an hour shooting in that spot through the sunset it was time to find a new spot so I walked into turn three to waste a few minutes such as the below shot of the full field coming by on a restart.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

I continued to walk towards turn four but stopped for a quick shot in the middle of the turn with a fisheye and slow shutter speed.

Nikon D3, 10.5-17mm, 320iso, f5, 1/15th

Late in the race Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards raced together for the first time in the race. Since they were 1 and 2 in the points it was an important shot to get.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

As I continued walking through turn four I saw palm trees and interesting light pattern in the foreground I wanted to incorporate into a shot. It didn’t come out very well, too cluttery in my opinion, but heres how it came out.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

In the end (as with the previous day) Carl Edwards won the race but still wasn’t able to make shave enough points off of the points leaders total. Edwards celebrated with his trademark backflip.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

Then he walked over to Jimmie Johnson who was taking a slow victory lap to congratulate him on the championship.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

Edwards then took the checkered flag and drove off to vicory lane to make way for the championship ceremony on the finish line.

Nikon D3, 10.5-17mm, 3200iso, f4.5, 1/400th

Myself along wih about 6 other photographers who shot from the outside waited at the crossover gate to be allowed onto the track to shoot the championship ceremony. The overzealous security guard had other ideas and refused to allow us to go through the gate. Even after all the photographers on the inside of the track ran out to get their spots he still wouldn’t allow us to cross. Jimmie Johnson was driving towards the stage and I was in a spot with zero chance to do my job so I quickly climbed up to the top of the flagstand just as Johnson was pulling into victory lane doing a very impressive slow speed burnout.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/800th

Johnson climbed from his car and was handed the trophy as he jubed.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 3200iso, f2.8, 1/800th

On the stage was Nick Lachey the former 98 degrees singer and ex husband of Jessica Simpson who is good friends with Johnson and wore a t-shirt with Johnsons senior portrait. Nice mullet!

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/640th

Johnson did some tv interviews and then went on the main stage to officially be given the trophy by NASCAR chairman Brian France.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/640th

I had a pretty cool accidental shot when the camera focused on some of the confetti in the foreground.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/640th

With my wide lens on the second body it made for a cool photo with all the confetti floating through the air.

Nikon D3, 14-24mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/640th

After some more interviews it was time for the champagne celebration where Johnson was given a gigantic bottle in which he went to town dousing everyone in sight.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/800th

Then I quickly shot with a wider lens.


Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 4000iso, f2.8, 1/1250th

After the champagne Johnson was taken to the media room for 90 minutes of interviews so I headed down from the flagstand and into the media room to transmit more images, on the way I quickly stopped in the normal victory lane to grab a quick shot of Carl Edwards with the race winners trophy.

Nikon D3, 400mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/400th

About two hours later Johnson finally went back to the championship stage to do the obligatory champion photos. First he did pics with crew chief Chad Knaus….

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

And finally he did photos by himself with his 3 championship trophies.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

The good thing with the photos he was posing for is he had to do a photo with each sponsor hat (about 20) so it allowed me to try some different angles.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

I then got way off to the side to get the dark sky as a clean background along with the moon.

Nikon D3, 80-200mm, 1600iso, f2.8, 1/1000th

And with that the 2008 NASCAR season was finally over!

Here is a little collage to show some of the various different angles I got of Jimmie Johnson throughout the weekend.

Here are a few of my clips from the weekend.









Posted in Me, NASCAR, Racing, Scenic, Sports   | 11 Comments

11 responses to “The Miami sun sets on the 2008 NASCAR season”

  1. dom says:

    So mark, now that the nascar season has finished what is next on the agenda for you to photograph? Or is it just lots more football


  2. I certainly have a lot of football coming up but I also will be shooting a big drag boat race this weekend as well as some other various small racing events to end out the year. Plus with all my free time I also plan to do a lot more portrait practice so I can get good at it.


  3. Sam Ryu says:

    Hey Mark. Thanks for all the great insider info in all your posts.

    Do you ever come down to San Diego to shoot the Chargers? I read your post about you shooting the NFL and getting assistants for each city.

    If you’re ever in town to shoot the Chargers or have any other shoot, I’d love to help out and get some experience.

    Keep up the awesome work!

    Sam Ryu

  4. Great work as always, Mark! ESPN always seems to pick your more dramatic shots; where on their site can I find that slide show?

  5. David says:

    when I grow up, I want to be just like you.

    Nice job, bro.

  6. Tim says:

    Ditto on the assistant gig… If you’re ever in Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto shooting anything…

    I love the inside look you give — amazing.


  7. Dennis Russo says:

    Wait… Geico insures the Craftsman Truck Series??

  8. Nice stuff. If your ever in San Diego can I touch you and carry your camera bag and smell you?

  9. Mark,

    Love these Nascar shots – especially the ones with the orange sky as a backdrop, but… the lizard on the fence is a true keeper! Great shot.


  10. Just a thought after seeing the picture of you on your tiptoes.. you should buy a E-Z Foldz Folding Plastic Step Stool. Mine fits in my backpack (with not much in there) but it folds up to two inches and its really lightweight. I use it a lot when I need to get higher than normal without straining. It seriously comes in handy when there’s a crowd or a fence or just anything in the way. I bought mine at Bed Bath and Beyond for $15, here’s the link if anyone is interested. I sound like a commercial but it’s brilliant.


  11. GV says:

    Cool race shots, looks like you had a good weekend!

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